Enhancement of Communication Skills Among Children With Autism using Dance Movement Therapy

Juilee Bapat

Key words: Children with autism, communication skills, dance therapy



As indicated by Bsoris (2001), the human ability to dance begins to develop before the infant is in the outside world as well as when they are brought into the outside world, where conceptions of space, awareness of gravity, muscle strength, crawling, and walking all begin to grow in response to the human urge to expand and explore the spatial use of the body. This illustrates that movement and dancing are natural and innate. We enter the human community being already knowledgeable in the language of nonverbal communication, i.e. the language of the body.

Dance movement therapy is a therapeutic form of creative arts therapy, which involves the use of movement and dance for healing in various conditions, such as behavioral, physical, cognitive, emotional, and social. (Asmita Vilas Balgaonkar, 2010).

Our thesis explores development of the therapeutic relationship among children with Autism through Dance Movement Therapy. The characteristics of Autism Spectrum Disorder affect social interactions, communication, behavior and interests. This means there is difficulty in engaging and maintaining reciprocal social interactions, and trouble with receptive and expressive language. (Oltmanns1995) The purpose of this study was to assess the effect of Dance Movement Therapy in enhancing the communication skills among children with Autism. Children with autism are constantly revolving around in their own world of a certain behavioral pattern. The only universal language is the language, which is communicated through our bodies and through movement. (Sarson and sarson 2005) It’s important to note that their repetitive restrictive behaviors and nervous system can settle and social engagement can begin. (Sarson and sarson 2005) This notion motivated the conduction of the current study. Expressive art therapies are based on the belief that client dilemmas respond to the freedom of artistic expression (Levine and Levine, 1999) this response to the artistic medium aids client in holistic expression and awareness of self beyond the limits of verbalized communication of their cognitive and emotive states. The western assumption that talking or verbalizing is the best form of expression is challenged by the fact that non-articulate clients also have a valid and meaningful reality to express and explore.

Method and Procedure:

The following practice focused report is based on a project that was undertaken for a span of 2 months from the 1st October 2016 to 31st December as a part of an internship. Participants have been selected with the view of research.

Sessions were held thrice a week, and the duration of the session was 90 minutes. The first month was spent in rapport and therapeutic goal building. This seemed to be the minimum time required to elicit natural and unbiased responses from the participants. As soon as they felt comfortable with the facilitators, they started trusting the therapeutic process. This was also the period required for the facilitators to set an intention for the child that would be worked towards during the session.

Sessions were conducted with 6 students with one dance movement therapist and two teachers. Observations were made based on the WHODAS questionnaire and the teachers and therapists point of view. We also used a videotape to record the sessions.


  • Effectiveness of dance movement therapy on communication of children with autism.
  • To increase expressiveness through dance movement therapy.
  • To document the role of dance movement therapy with children with autism.

Initial data was collected through teacher’s observations, clinical reports, previous reports of schools and in-depth interviews with the parents about their perception of their child, and their report of the child’s behavior(s). Thereafter, the child was observed through a one-month rapport-building period in order to make a ‘case report’. Reports has been made based on daily observations which were based on DMT coding sheet and discussions with teachers. Based on this data, each session was divided into the following:

Opening ritual: Chanting ‘Om’

Warm Up: Saying ‘Hi’ in different ways.

Main activity: Included art craft and other material.

Closing ritual: Saying ‘Thank you’ and ‘Bye’.

Picture communication cards and flashcards were also used constantly for enhancing their movement and visual cues for communication. Mirroring technique was also extensively used in the current report. Results were generated on the basis of the tests and qualitative analysis along with graphs.

Few communication techniques like Oral motor skills of children, Sounds, Listening, Receiver, Sending the message and receiving. (Feldman R.S and Nandita Babu 2011) were used constantly in the session for voice articulation and communication.

Following methods were used from dance movement therapy:

Mirroring: Two people stand face to face with one person mirroring the other’s movement. (Payne, 2008).

Breathing with Om: Children with autism generally lock themselves in their virtual reality. Deep breathing exercises can be very beneficial to bring them back into the world. Deep breathing has several goals associated with it. (Gladding, 1998).

Improvisation: Payne (1992) This technique can be implemented by asking the participants to act, move, or breathe whatever they are feeling. This may allow for a direct expression of the unconscious mind through movement, without expectations or guidance.


The purpose of this research is to find out the “effectiveness of dance movement therapy on communication in children with autism”. Pretest and post-test were conducted. Observations were made with dance movement therapy coding sheet.

The WHODAS 0.2 pre-test showed that it was difficult for children to concentrate on doing something for ten minutes. The average concentration span for every child is 4 to 5 minutes but these children were not able to concentrate even for that long. It was seen that they lost eye contact after 4 to 5 minute. It was also observed that these children would lose heir orientation regarding the time and place until the researcher brought them back through physical touch. It was tough for them to remember complicated things but could manage with basic instructions like ‘stand up’ and ‘sit down’. Their Intelligence quotient was nearly 75 to 80. They showed a lack in logical thinking and problem-solving skills. Students seemed much trained with the art and craft activity as they learn vocational training in the NGO. They displayed a lack of creativity and logical thinking in the sessions where the objective was enhancement of communication skills. As per their performance and evaluation, the activities involved were ‘Saying their own names, addresses and saying yes or no. The idea was to Improve oral motor skills.

Date of the first session was 4 October 2016. There are 23 students in NGO. 80 percent students were diagnosed with autism. Based on their interest and clinical symptoms the researcher chose 6 participants. Sessions were conducted for 3 days in week with 90 minutes.

First session was very interesting.

Therapeutic goal: Rapport building.

Intention: To make them smile.

Thread of activities: Connection.

Opening ritual: Based on mirroring technique. They started swinging with standing position. We started swinging together and slowly sitting down and chanting ‘Om’.

Warm up: Basic hand and legs movement with their movement pattern. Hands up down, waving the hand, sitting and standing, jumping.

Main activity: Swinging around with increasing speeds. Instructions were given for swings. From the count of 1 to 5, they had to swing together and after they were made to stop, they had to share their names with each other.

Closure: Sitting down and Chanting the ‘Om’ and saying bye. Closure was 5 claps.

They enjoyed a lot. All students were very energetic. The researcher needed to be spontaneous and alert. Session plan were modified according to their responses. The same session plan continued for 10 sessions till they established a good rapport. The 11th to 55th session have been based on prior sessions and some aspects were added step by step. During their last session, we started with ‘Om’ and Chakra chanting. The students had started saying their names with moderate volume and started saying the address in one word. At the end of session, we played music and they started dancing on it. Closure was done with ‘Om’ and chakra chanting.

It was observed that their body language had improved. Weight shift had reduced. Response to instructions and listening skills were moderate. Instruction had started helping them in understanding of direction. Rhythm synchrony was moderate, energy level was high. Group coordination was good. They started caring about each other. Motivation and interest was good. They all were very enthusiastic. Cooperation was good. Range of movement was open but restricted in some. They started socially interacting with the group members. Eye contact was moderate. Imitation skills were good. Verbal articulation was low. Participation was moderate. Group focus was good. Adaptability was moderate. Physical contact was moderate. Creativity was low. Physical stamina was high.

(Gallese, eagle & Migone, 2005) There were some other parameters, which were observed They are:

  1. Vocalization was very low at the first session but improved to moderate levels.
  2. Basic vocabulary was very poor but showed little improvement.
  3. Students started making simple sentences.
  4. Expressive capacity improved and self-expression through art was observed.
  5. Group interaction improved at the end.

Post- test of WHODAS 0.2 was conducted. The test reported that there was an improvement in Concentrating, Learning a new task, understanding and starting and maintaining conversations.


Limitation of Study:

  • Sample size is small with no variable.
  • Results cannot be generalised to a large
  • Coding sheet lacked in details the dimension of communication and body language.
  • Validity of the session was not measured.
  • There were observed influences of social factors such as presence of children while filling out the forms.
  • Motivation and interest to fill out the questionnaire were also
  • Short period research.
  • The present research taken only for autism with mild intensity
  • Lack of comparison group of normal children
  • Study limited to only 6 children with autism.


Implications for the Future Study:

  • To make the research more focused, a larger sample size must be taken into consideration for future research.
  • Further researches are needed to evaluate factors affecting changes in children with autism.
  • Effects of intervention and remedial programs can be added to the study.
  • Detailed role dance movement therapy in mental health cane be discussed


For the study, a sample of 6 autistic children was taken (i.e. detailed pre-intervention and post-intervention, before and after receiving dance movement therapy study was conducted). The independent variable was dance movement therapy. Dependent variable was communication skills. Based on the above pre-test and post-test of WHODAS 0.2 and with dance therapy coding sheet there has been an improvement in communication.



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